Last week, I told you about 2023′s most anticipated restaurant openings.
Since then, readers alerted me to two more places that foodies should put on their radar, including a dim sum spot from famed chef Peter Chang, whose eponymous restaurant in Columbia is also preparing for takeoff.
Meanwhile, big changes are in store for Chang’s acclaimed restaurant in Canton, which will reopen in February with a new model.
A new Syrian restaurant will intrigue fans of D.C.’s Albi and Maydan restaurants, and I have more information about La Calle’s new location.
Also, whet your appetite for area restaurant weeks.
And we’ll say farewell to the Red Star, which first opened in 1987.
Checking in with Peter Chang
Peter Chang is on a roll. One of the region’s top chefs, he was a finalist for last year’s James Beard Award, one of the food world’s top honors. In October, he opened Chang Chang, his first restaurant in Washington proper, which is generating rave reviews.
Within the next week or so, his first restaurant in downtown Columbia will open at 6000 Merriweather Drive, said Karen Fu, a spokeswoman for Chang and manager for his restaurant group.
And, drumroll please: Sometime around February or March, Peter Zhang Dim Sum will open in Baltimore.
Seriously, this is huge. Charm City is sorely lacking in places to grab dim sum, or Cantonese-style brunch, and Chang’s fans have been begging him for years to help. I have driven from Baltimore to Fairfax, Virginia, for the fabulous dim sum at the family’s Mama Chang restaurant, a trek of more than 100 miles round trip.
Peter Zhang will be located at 1923 Ashland Ave., near the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The renovation has not yet started on the 3,000-square-foot space but begins soon, Fu said. (“Zhang” is another spelling for ”Chang.”)
But in another plot twist, Chang’s Canton restaurant NiHao is going to shut down and reopen with a new menu and business model, said Lydia Chang, Peter’s daughter and business partner.
This surprised me. Since opening, NiHao was named to Esquire’s list of best new restaurants and even nominated for a James Beard Award.
Although the restaurant has had what Lydia called “a good run” for two and a half years, she said, “We just have not been generating enough business revenue to keep the concept going.” At the end of the day, she said “it’s really how we could make it worth the while for [our] investors.”
NiHao will shut down Jan. 22, which also marks the end of the Lunar New Year. That date makes it the perfect time for a new beginning, Lydia Chang said.
The restaurant at 2322 Boston St. is serving a special Lunar New Year feast to help usher in the year of the rabbit, with options including noodles and whole fish.
Lydia declined to go into too much detail about what to expect when the restaurant reopens in February — it will still be called NiHao — but said some of the kitchen production will shift to a centrally-located workspace that the family is creating to serve its many restaurants.
I found it refreshing that Lydia was willing to talk about NiHao as a business, one that needs to generate a profit to stay alive. Many times, owners talk about their concepts in very emotional or artistic terms, removed from the day-to-day demands.
But there’s a difference between winning awards and making money. Or, at least, creating a sustainable business model.
Just look at Copenhagen’s Noma, called the world’s best restaurant. It’s set to close at the end of 2024, in part because of concerns about its future and the need to raise wages for staff (including some who had been working for free until recently).
Similarly, Woodberry Kitchen owner Spike Gjerde, the city’s only James Beard Award winner, closed down his restaurant near Hampden, relaunching it as an event space with a comparatively tiny tavern on-site.
La Calle’s next act
After closing its spot near Baltimore’s City Hall on New Year’s Eve, La Calle’s owners confirmed that they plan to relocate.
Co-founder Luis Sandoval said the decision was difficult, but the downtown location never recovered from the pandemic, with so many of the usual lunch and happy hour crowd working from home.
They were hoping all the offices would come back, he said. But after all this time, “I don’t think they’re going to come back.”
The new location will be 623 South Broadway in Fells Point, according to an application submitted to the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City.
The Red Star in Fells Point closes
The Red Star in Fells Point has shut its doors, the latest establishment in the neighborhood to end operations. Other recent departures include Barley’s Backyard and Lucky Buns. The future of Bertha’s Mussels is up in the air.
Originally launched in 1987, the Red Star rebranded as Water’s Edge in 1999, then reopening again in 2004 as Red Star. The name was said to reference the symbols that once guided sailors to the nearest brothel.
The restaurant at 906 South Wolfe St. notified customers of the shutdown on its website, posting the following message: “Unfortunately The Red Star will be closing permanently after our last dinner service on 1/7/2023. We’d like to thank our Customers, and especially our staff, for many years of support.”
Staff at the Red Star declined to speak with The Baltimore Banner about the closure last week, and an owner did not respond to a request for comment.
A fine dining Syrian restaurant opens Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at 751 Key Highway.
Owner Jay Salkini, who also owns the Art of Balance Wellness Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Residences, grew up in Syria and long dreamed of opening a restaurant celebrating the food his homeland, his attorney Stephan W. Fogleman told the Baltimore board of liquor license commissioners at a hearing last year.
At the hearing, Salkini drew comparisons to tony Washington establishments like Albi in Navy Yard and ilili on the Wharf, as well as Maydan on Florida Avenue. (Food people feel our ears perk up at the mention of Albi. I went to chef Michael Rafidi’s Michelin-starred restaurant a few years ago and it was pure magic.)
Executive chef Dima Al-Chaar is at the helm. A menu posted on the website includes hard-to-find Levantine specialties such as raw kibbeh, similar to steak tartare, and freekeh, as well as modern twists on Arabic classics. Appetizers include knafeh shrimp and smashed batata harra, or spicy potatoes.
The restaurant will serve dinner five days a week to start and then expand hours this summer.
Ammoora, Salkini’s first restaurant, aims to bring the elevated Levantine vibe to Baltimore, said Markie Britton, the restaurant’s chief marketing officer. Inside, different rooms — including a contemporary bar and lounge and traditional dining room — are designed to offer guests a unique experience in each. Soft color palates and mother-of-pearl inlay throughout conjures up the image of a fine home in Damascus.
“Ammoora” is a common Arabic nickname, and a tribute to Salkini’s daughter, Britton said.
Fogleman told the board that he planned to invest $1.8 million in the project. The location was previously Sip Kitchen & Wine Bar, which closed in 2015.
And now for something completely different. Fast food chain Raising Cane’s opens a location at 4 West Towsontown Blvd. on Thursday. It’s part of a 15-restaurant expansion planned for the area, according to a November article in the Baltimore Business Journal.
The article stated that other branches will launch in Westminster, Gambrills, Annapolis, Baltimore City, Bel Air, Columbia, Glen Burnie, Parkville, Linthicum Heights and Timonium.
Restaurant Week season
We are entering the season of restaurant weeks, when local businesses are running specials to entice diners during what’s usually a slow time of year.
Twenty-eight Howard County restaurants are joining in on that area’s restaurant week, which starts Monday and runs through Jan. 29. Check out local spots like The Turn House, Seasons 52, Elkridge Furnace Inn, Iron Bridge Wine Co., Clove & Cardamom, The Food Market Columbia and more.
Baltimore County Restaurant Week kicks off Friday and runs through Jan. 22 with a list of more than 40 participants, including Pappas branches in both Cockeysville and Parkville as well as Lib’s Grill.
Then, mark your calendars for Baltimore Restaurant Week, which lists more than 70 participants on its website. What better excuse to revisit some favorite local haunts, whether that’s Tio Pepe or Cosima, or someplace new like Ash Bar. The promotion runs Jan. 27 through Feb. 5.